Prague, 20 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today looks at Europe's weakness on the international stage, Russia's maneuvers in Georgia, policing the Balkans, and renewed attacks in the Middle East. Debate also continues over the potential launch of U.S.-led military operations in Iraq, following Baghdad's announcement on 16 September that it would readmit United Nations weapons inspectors.
In Britain's "Financial Times," Philip Stevens says a U.S.-led war to topple the Iraqi regime would represent a "serious strategic failure" for Europe. Apart from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Stephens says not one European leader believes an Iraq invasion is either "sensible or safe." Yet, he says "if, or when, the U.S. marches on Baghdad, every one of these leaders [will] step meekly into line."
European leaders will quietly acquiesce to U.S.-led military action in Iraq "because they are afraid to do otherwise," Stephens says. They greatly fear the consequences of an Iraq war for both European and U.S. security. "But they are more reluctant still to contemplate the consequences for the trans-Atlantic alliance and the international system of defying the sole superpower."
Stephens says that in contrast, "A strong Europe, sufficiently sure of its political cohesion and military capabilities to dispense with the U.S. security guarantee, would say 'No' -- or at the very least set its own rules for any conflict." But Europe's weakness is not just military. Stephens writes: "Power and prestige on the international stage are a measure of inner strength, of political self-confidence and of economic success. Europe can claim neither. Instead it holds itself hostage to an absence of leadership."
"For as long as its economy is weak, Europe will be weak," writes Stephens. "And, unsurprisingly, its views will be scorned in Washington."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In "The New York Times," staff columnist Nicholas Kristof says that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is right to be skeptical of Iraq's intentions to allow the return of UN weapons inspectors. However, he says the U.S. administration may be too dismissive of the chances for workable inspections. It "may be possible to put teeth in the inspections so that they really are meaningful, so that they could avert a war," he writes. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's "paramount aim is to survive, and if faced with tough 'comply or die' inspections, he might choose his life over his Scuds [missiles]."
The only chance to avert war is renewed, and "rigorous," inspections, says Kristof. Earlier UN attempts at inspections "have been justly criticized," but they did manage to destroy more of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction than the Gulf War itself did, he remarks, citing a March report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Really tough and aggressive inspections could do even better, and just might be able to neutralize Iraq without a war."
An editorial in Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses yesterday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, which killed five people as well as the attacker and left more than 50 wounded. The attack led to the Israeli military's issuing a statement that it would step up its activity in the West Bank and in Ramallah, near Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters, where Israel's military claims there are some 20 wanted persons hiding.
The commentary says such attacks have become "routine practice whenever there is a glimmer of hope" for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The latest "glimmer" was the agreement reached by representatives of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations, known as the "Quartet" of Mideast negotiators, on pursuing a three-step plan that would culminate with the establishment of a Palestinian state in 2005.
The paper says Israel is not bent on occupying Palestinian territory, since it has no desire to undermine its moral authority by colonizing a foreign state. But for the terrorists, it says "the occupation forms the basis of their very existence."
In spite of these continuous attacks and counterattacks it is to be hoped, the commentary concludes, that the Middle East Quartet's initiative will not "fizzle out."
A "Financial Times" editorial today says the European Union may end up "missing its solo debut as a peacekeeper." Due to what the paper calls "an absurd continuing diplomatic impasse" between Greece and Turkey, the EU may not be able to take over peacekeeping in Macedonia from NATO as planned at the end of October.
If the peacekeeping torch is not passed, "it will be a pity for the EU, which needs to show greater firmness and unity of purpose in regional security," particularly as the U.S. administration becomes increasingly "dismissive of European allies."
Ever since NATO and the EU agreed to share military assets whenever possible, NATO member Turkey has imposed the condition that the EU should not use the alliance's assets "to serve the interests of Greece, a member of both organizations, against Turkey." Animosity continues between Turkey and Greece over the divided island of Cyprus.
The paper says the EU "wants to act in step with NATO for reasons of principle and practice." There is "no question that peacekeeping has been a good investment in Macedonia and should be continued," it writes. Greece and Turkey, "which both have a strong stake in security in their Balkan neighborhood, should not make EU peacekeeping a victim of their mutual suspicion."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG
In the German daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Berthold Kohler describes the German stance on Iraqi President Hussein as "counterproductive populism."
Kohler says it was predictable that Baghdad would try to sway its adversaries when the threat of war became serious. Regarding Iraq's latest diplomatic move of agreeing to renewed inspections, Kohler writes, "among the many politicians who now claim that success for themselves, only the leaders of the United States and Britain are deserving of credit. It was the U.S. threat of military action that impressed Saddam," he says.
U.S. President George W. Bush's strategy to multilateralize the conflict with Iraq under the umbrella of the United Nations is now bearing fruit. Saudi Arabia and other states in the region are returning to Washington's side, while European allies can now join the U.S. effort without losing face.
The only loser is German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, since he was most vehement in raising doubts about the West's willingness to push through UN resolutions with military action. In the end, says Kohler, Schroeder "undermined his self-professed goal of finding a political solution."
This week's edition of Britain's "The Economist" says recent policy moves by Russian President Vladimir Putin seem to caricature U.S. policies. Putin has threatened that Russia will intervene militarily if Georgia is unable to crack down on alleged Chechen separatists located on its territory in Pankisi Gorge.
Like the United States in Iraq, Russia "is insisting on its right to take military action, alone if necessary, against a nation which it deems to be in breach of international law; like America in Afghanistan, Russia justifies itself by recalling that failed states can be a source of festering security threats. Like [U.S. President] George Bush, Mr. Putin is merely proposing to act preemptively" against a state that might pose a danger. If Georgia cannot guarantee that no attacks on Russia will be launched from Georgian territory, then Russia will step in.
But there is "a huge flaw in Russia's argument," "The Economist" says. Russia itself has consistently undermined the Georgian central authority. Ever wary of a strong Georgian government, Russia has traditionally supported the country's separatist "mini-states" in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Adjaria in the southwest. The magazine concludes that if Russia is truly concerned about security on their southern frontier, it "would do better to reinforce Georgia's statehood rather than chip away at it."
In Belgium's "Le Soir," Sophie Claudet says Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is once again totally isolated in his Ramallah headquarters, under renewed siege by the Israeli Army following two suicide attacks in Israel. Amid heightened security ahead of this evening's observances of the Sukkot Jewish holiday, Israeli soldiers led predawn raids in the Gaza Strip in which three Palestinians were killed. Israel is demanding the surrender of approximately 20 Palestinians who are believed to have taken refuge at Arafat's headquarters.
Claudet says the Israeli government has again accused Arafat of being responsible for "cruel and despicable" acts of terrorism. Arafat, for his part, condemned all attacks on civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli, and blamed Israel for the military escalation. Claudet cites an anonymous leader of the Islamic Jihad as saying the latest suicide attack in Tel Aviv is proof of Israel's failure to suppress the Palestinian intifada.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)